I’m working on a Humanities question and need guidance to help me study.
To begin, read “Heritage” from Walter Benn Michael’s Our America. It grounds the notion that America is not simply the United States of America; it is a space and place defined by “Natives and Newcomers,” and traditional history is not necessarily an accurate record of how and why minorities are subjected in those time-periods and now. Thus, as my notes from last week indicated, we need to move passed the idea that “textbook” history is correct. Instead, we turn to literature, policies, politics, government, etc. to discover and examine how and why minority oppression exists. Discussion Board Question: analyze the arguments put forth in “Theme for English B,” “Let America be America Again,” “Advertisement for the Waldorf Astoria,” and “Salvation” by Langston Hughes within the context of Benn Michael’s overarching claims. Do not forget to support your claims with an additional scholarly source.
In “Heritage,” Benn Michael’s picks up on the above theme within the context of African American art, life, and literature, but remember that for white nativism, all minorities must suffer the same fate: domination or complete acculturation. Now, the stark difference here is the influx of Africans via slavery, rather than traditional immigration. This fact works in two different fashions against the African Americans of the time period and today: First, the land, itself, is not their geographical birthright—i.e. they are not indigenous to it. Therefore, their transplant status serves as an excuse for the dominant to proclaim that they have no claim to it. Second, slavery by nature is psychically, mentally, and emotionally oppressive and enforced. Thus, the trauma of the circumstance must also be addressed because coping mechanisms include denial, repression, projection, and displacement (Freud 1894 and 1896). The modern African American then has a different set of constraints in which they must create and conduct their own “ceremonies” of healing via communal catharsis. For example, when Benn Michael’s points out that studying American history encompasses the African American past, it automatically concludes that African Americans are “Americans,” and the dominant’s greatest fear is that the minority is not so different from themselves. With the exceptions of pigment, culture, and values, the human race is statically similar on all counts. However, this is a simplification that one cannot responsibly make within the scope of reality. The past of the African American shows externally. They are then readily categorized by the dominant in an inferior fashion. The discourse of Humanities then must recognize that such a sub-group is unrepresented in the narration of the nation, and that narrative is defined by the historical and present circumstance. In other words, acculturation can never be truly accomplished because of the reality of social injustice and inequality. Instead, this America (the African-American America) is something new yet everchanging, as with most other minority groups. For instance, when Langston Hughes states, “So will my page be colored that I write? / Being me, it will not be white. / But it will be / a part of you, instructor. / You are white— / yet a part of me, as I am a part of you. / That’s American” in “Theme for English B,” he rightly asserts that the dominant and the subjected have to learn to cope and live with each other because neither one is going away or can be avoided (1951). Benn Michael’s is careful to acknowledge this actually when he addresses how and why the dominant appropriates “black culture” for its own needs or desires. Thus, cultural influence oscillates back-and-forth, but the power of each position is uneven. Race is then not a social construct or “phenomenon”; it is a fact of life, and one that must be addressed in art, since it is discounted by history.
“Advertisement for the Waldorf Astoria” (1931) and “Salvation” (1940) address both social injustice and religion’s role in minority oppression. Yet, Hughes uses satire to deliver his message, instead of a direct message. This is done for two different reasons: one, it maximizes his audience. You have to remember that a majority of his readers are white, and his use of humor and reference to the poverty stricken identifies with and appeals to both intellectuals and socio-economically suppressed readers. Second, satire, humor, and irony are often used to “code” messages. For lack of a kinder explanation, it circumvents traditional cultural and social boundaries and constraints in much the same fashion as the trickster character—the argument either becomes more palatable to the audience or they are not intelligent enough to understand the underlying meaning. Thus, at its core, Hughes is a master of rhetorical ploys or exponents.
Now, the difference is slight and can oscillate between contradictory meanings, but it useful for us to understand the nuances of the terms here because minority art often couches its contentions in such formats for the two reasons outlined above. Rhetorical Ploys are usually defined fallacies or false arguments that seem like an argument on the surface but are in reality not logical. However, they can also be used in the reverse with great affect: if a portion of the audience does not comprehend the claims set forth, they would conclude that only a fallacious or false argument exists, but the party of the audience that does understand the “coded” messages is then privy to the real contentions at hand. Thus, this audience understands that the references—Rhetorical Exponents—within the text point to a sound and more significant argument. Hughes does both in much of his work to not only challenge the majority/minority status quo both champion for social, cultural, economic, and political change. Note his last two stanzas. Both tackle religion and government from a form of immediate and active activism on the part of his audience. Think about these ideas when formulating your final essays for the course.
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